Left Coast Forum weekend offers socialism, Marxism, and more in L.A.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist running for a congressional seat in New York, will be one of the headliners for the upcoming Left Coast Forum in Los Angeles. | Christian Monterrosa / Sipa via AP

LOS ANGELES—This year’s Left Coast Forum features intriguing and exciting content from a broad spectrum of artists, academics, and community activists. As might be expected, the weekend, August 24-26, will feature several examinations of Marxism from different perspectives and the surging interest in socialism.

The three-day-long convocation alternates between plenary sessions and a host of workshops in various time slots. Radical entertainment and music are scattered throughout the weekend. Bring a notebook—you’ll be busy the whole time!

A few highlights follow, but check out the full schedule and links will bring you to full bios of the presenters and expanded descriptions of the sessions.

Centrality of Race

Kelly Lytle Hernandez and Sharon Kyle share the stage for a discussion on the Centrality of Race, held Friday, 7-8 pm. A majority of white people voting in the 2016 presidential election cast their votes for Donald J. Trump. Let that sink in. Sharon did. As she read Hernandez’s book, City of Inmates – Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965, she saw that the punchline of the book, “mass elimination,” was somehow connected to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Hernandez and Kyle will discuss the ways in which targeted populations have historically been marginalized, removed, contained, disappeared, and caged—and the impact that has had on the progressive movement. Here’s a recent interview Sharon and her husband Dick conducted with Kelly.

Following this panel comes the first keynote address of the weekend, from 8-9 on Friday night. The speaker is Dr. Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. Appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2014, she is a recognized expert on race, gender, class, and social movements, and has authored numerous articles and book chapters, with subjects ranging from political coalition building to womanist mothering.

Eric Mann and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The two Saturday one-hour plenary sessions are keynote addresses by Eric Mann at 1 pm, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at 3:45 pm. Mann’s session is entitled “Lessons from 1968 for Today’s Movement: Black/Latino/Third World United Front against the U.S. Imperialist White Settler State is a Critical Strategy for Revolutionary Resistance in the U.S.” In Mann’s thinking, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the most decisive revolutionary year in living American history. In that year, the Vietnamese National Liberation Front carried out a decisive political victory in its war against the U.S., Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, urban rebellions rocked the U.S., President Lyndon Johnson refused to run for re-election under great national protests, students at Columbia University rose up against the war, and the Paris student/worker rebellions shaped history. Activists agreed the problem was “The System,” the Answer was “The Revolution,” and the vehicle was “The Movement.”

Mann sees parallels with American society today, disintegrating morally, economically, politically, ecologically, and spiritually. Yet there is a need for more discussion about what is our strategy moving forward. Mann is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Newark Community Union Project, Students for a Democratic Society, the United Auto Workers New Directions Movement, and is now director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center and host of KPFK’s Voices from the Frontlines.

Many Americans on the left are already familiar with the impressive Democratic Congressional primary victory in New York City by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the educator, organizer, and third-generation New Yorker who challenged and defeated 20-year incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley. Her platform includes enactment of an improved and expanded Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free college, criminal justice reform and more—not in a hundred years, but now!

Marx at 200

There are many, many overlapping panels, sessions, and workshops to consider attending, of which the following is but a small selection. One on Saturday, from 11:30 to 12:45 is “Marx at 200: Critical and Humanist Legacies for Today,” with panelists Kevin Anderson, Barbara Epstein, and Douglas Kellner. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth this year, it is important to view his critique of capitalism in light of contemporary debates and currents in radical thought, the better to connect theory to practice. This panel will link Marx to the critical theory and socialist humanist schools of thought, emphasizing the timeliness of his revolutionary critique of capitalism as a system of domination, exploitation, and alienation that is rooted in race and gender as well as class oppression. The panel will also discuss how to overcome the economic, political, and cultural domination of capitalism, at a time when the evolution of that system in the Trump era has placed our very survival in question.

Is Marxism Still Relevant?” takes place on Saturday, 2:15-3:30 pm, with panelists Ed Rampell (a frequent contributor to People’s World), Stephan Hammel, Valerie Carlson, Jim Lafferty, and Carl Wood. On June 30, 2018, the New York Times published a column headlined: “The Millennial Socialists Are Coming.” Is “the spectre of communism [still] haunting” America and the world 200 years after Marx was born? Panelists representing different left parties and perspectives will tackle this question and much more, explaining their conceptions of Marxism and exploring the relevance of Marxist analysis 170 years after publication of The Communist Manifesto. Come the revolution, how will Marxism impact on economics? Race? Gender? Class? Militarism? Endless war? Can Marxism solve inequality across the board and create an egalitarian social system? Will we ever see a Marxist workers’ paradise, “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all,” where the golden rule is “from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs?”

Towards the Mountaintop

The Sunday plenary, 11:15 am-12 noon, will be a talk by Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, a post he has served since 2011. He launched the Orange County Office of the ACLU in 2005 and served as its director until 2009, when he became legal director for the affiliate. Before joining ACLU SoCal, he served as regional counsel for the L.A. Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and as a staff attorney, leading numerous civil rights cases involving such issues as educational equity, religious discrimination, immigrants’ rights and voting rights. He currently serves on the board of Just Detention International.

Winding up the day and the Left Coast Forum on Sunday from 3-6 pm is “Towards the Mountaintop: Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” a live stage event to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s passing and the 55th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Actors and activists will re-enact Dr. King and other real-life equal rights activists, with musicians providing Negro spirituals, gospel music and anti-Vietnam War rock songs. On a schedule permitting basis, re-enactors for the Rev. King Commemoration include: Ed Asner portraying Reconstruction Era radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and President Harry S Truman in his White House confrontation with Paul Robeson. K.B. Solomon plays singer/actor/activist Robeson; Gerald Rivers depicts Dr. King; Ben Guillory plays W.E.B. Du Bois; activist Harvey Wasserman is Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs; Evelia Jones, a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, portrays her great-grandmother (many times removed); Brenda Lee Eager brings us Mahalia Jackson, and more.

In addition to the scheduled speakers and workshops, the Forum will be weekend home to various organizations with further information for you to explore. For many attendees, perhaps the most exciting part of the weekend is the many committed people they meet for productive conversations. Bring plenty of cards with your contact information—you’ll be sharing them widely!

The Left Coast Forum home page with registration information is here. The full schedule for the Left Coast Forum can be viewed here. KPFK is the media sponsor for the weekend.


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.